Japan's gasoline imports jump 27% in August

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s gasoline imports jumped 27.3% in August from a year earlier due to cheaper overseas prices and tighter local supply as refiners kept run rates low amid slumping demand for jet fuel, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said on Wednesday.

Imports totalled 422,654 kilolitres (85,755 barrels per day), up from 332,030 kl a year earlier, but they fell 5.3% from 446,206 kl in July which was the highest monthly import figure since August 2011.

Gasoline imports in January-August rose 74% on-year.

“Overseas gasoline prices are extremely low, which is giving us an incentive to import,” Tsutomu Sugimori, president of the Petroleum Association of Japan, said last week.

"Also, we have been running refineries at low rates to reflect plunging demand for jet fuels, forcing us to import gasoline to cover some shortage," said Sugimori, also the chairman of Eneos Holdings Inc 5020.T, Japan's top refiner.

Japan's refinery run rate has been at around 60% in the past few months as fuel demand collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially jet fuel which was hurt by global curbs on air travel. OPERATE-JP

But Sugimori said the run rate is expected to recover toward winter when kerosene demand picks up, leading to lower gasoline imports.

Jet fuel and kerosene are closely related and belong to a grade of oil products called middle distillates.

The ministry data also showed crude oil imports fell 23.9% on-year to 11.64 million kl (2.36 million bpd), the lowest for the month of August since 1988.

It marked an eighth consecutive monthly decline and followed a year-on-year fall of 31-32% in June and July, when crude oil imports hit the lowest for the month since 1967 and 1968, respectively.

Crude oil imports in January-August fell 16.9% on-year.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kim Coghill